Retro Rangers: The Quest for Big Ned

by | Nov 21, 2019

Retro Rangers: The Quest for Big Ned

by | Nov 21, 2019

At 6-foot-2, 205 pounds Czechoslovakian Vaclav Nedomansky was everything Emile Francis, as well as most of the other GM’s in the league, was looking for in a center during the 1970s. He was big and strong, could skate and possessed a wrist shot that was once clocked at over 90 miles-per-hour, faster than most slap shots in those days. By 1968 the 23-year old had accumulated 72 goals and 116 points over two seasons playing for Slovan Bratislava in the Czech League. He also registered 10 goals and 20 points in International competition including five goals and two assists while playing for the Silver Medal winning Czechoslovakian squad in the 1968 Olympics. He was considered by many to be the best player in Czechoslovakia and perhaps in Europe.

Emile Francis: “Jackie McLeod, who played for the Rangers and played baseball for me, he was a good pitcher, ended up as coach of the Canadian team and the years they didn’t go to the Olympics they went to the World Championships. So I called him and asked him if when he was in Europe he saw any players that were capable of playing in the National Hockey League? ‘Yeah I did’, he said. ‘A guy by the name of Vaclav Nedomansky’ from Czechoslovakia, that’s the guy who stood out to me’.

Back then we were allowed five guys on our negotiations list. So right away I pulled a guy off our list and put Nedomansky on there. Well now it’s the next year and Czechoslovakia comes over to play Montreal’s farm club at the Forum.  I couldn’t go because I was coaching but I sent three of our scouts up to watch him play. And they beat Montreal’s farm team 5-1 and he scored all five goals. So I said, okay, I gotta really get busy on this because this guy was 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, exactly what you’re looking for down the middle.

So there was a guy I knew in Guelph who was from Czechoslovakia who was a real junior hockey fan, so when the Rangers were in Toronto I brought him in to talk to him.  I said I gotta try to make contact with this guy because they were coming in to play eight games on a tour and their last game was in Kitchener which was perfect for us because we had a junior team in Kitchener at the time and he lived about 10-12 miles outside of Kitchener and he could speak the language and of course I couldn’t.

So he made contact and we had it all set up. The last game they played in Kitchener, the minute the game ended and he changed his clothes he was to come out the back door. We would have a car waiting and we’d take him to this guy’s farm and we’d hide him out on the farm. So I told the guy, you call me at the end of the first period so I know all the details. Everything was perfect, the team came in to practice the day before and he had a chance to get Nedomansky on the phone to explain everything. So he calls me at the end of the first period, and says ‘Emile we got a problem, he not dressed. They didn’t dress him and there’s a guy on each side of him guarding him.’ So we never got him. But then when the WHA came along he ended up playing in Toronto. And then from there I think he played for Detroit.  But he would have fit in with us very well. He was a good player.”

Nedomansky eventually defected in 1974 and signed with the Toronto Toros of the WHA where he scored 135 goals for the Toronto \ Birmingham franchise over parts of four seasons. In 1977 he signed with the Detroit Red Wings of the NHL and stayed there for five seasons scoring a total of 106 goals.

Big Ned finally became a Ranger in September of 1982 when he was signed as an unrestricted free agent. He scored a power play goal in his first game as a Ranger and coach Herb Brooks was planning to use him on a line with Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson. But due to an administrative error, the Rangers were forced to place Nedomansky on the waiver list where he was claimed by none other than Emile Francis, who by then was the GM of the St. Louis Blues. He played only 22 games with the Blues, scoring just two goals before being dealt back to the Rangers along with goaltender Glen Hanlon for Andre Dore in January of 1983. Big Ned played the remainder of the season with the Blueshirts, scoring 11 goals and retired at the end of the year at the age of 39.

Overall in six NHL seasons Nedomansky scored 121 goals with 156 assists for 277 points in 420 games. He only appeared in one playoff series, that being with Detroit in 1977-78 scoring three goals and five assists in seven games. In four seasons in the WHA he recorded 135 goals with 118 assists in 252 games and added three goals and one assists in six playoff games for the Toronto Toros in 1974-75.

.Vaclav Nedomansky was a pioneer. He was the first player to bravely defect from his Eastern European home to play professionally in North America. Unfortunately he arrived late in his career, but he still made enough of an impact to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in November 2019.





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